Maternal Health

Repairing Fistula, Restoring Lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Members of SOLFA pose with fistula survivors at Hôpital St. Luc. Courtesy photo.
Members of SOLFA pose with fistula survivors at Hôpital St. Luc. Courtesy photo.

Located in the city of Kisantu on the western side of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Hôpital Général de Référence Saint Luc is Direct Relief’s first obstetric fistula partner in the DRC. A 274-bed referral hospital that serves a catchment area of approximately 150,000 people, Saint Luc received its first shipment of two fistula modules last year.

Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal that is caused by prolonged and obstructed labor. If untreated, a woman with obstetric fistula will experience constant and uncontrollable leakage of urine and/or feces. In addition to physical injuries, many women with fistula suffer humiliation, isolation, and stigma as a result of the smell and constant leakage.

However, obstetric fistula can be treated with repair surgery. To ensure health providers have access to the essential medicines and surgical supplies needed for the specialized surgery and post-operative care, Direct Relief developed Fistula Repair Modules containing everything needed for fistula treatment. Each contains enough supplies for an estimated 50 surgeries. These are provided at no cost to facilities providing obstetric fistula repair surgery worldwide.

Addressing Fistula Through Collaboration

Saint Luc became a recipient of the Direct Relief Fistula Repair Modules though a collaboration with the Solidarity Fund African Women International (SOLFA). The organization was established in 2006 by a small group of Belgian physicians and professors associated with K.U. Leuven, Belgium’s oldest and largest university.

They founded SOLFA to address obstetric fistula by providing free fistula repair surgery in addition to creating employment and income-generating opportunities for young girls and women in Central Africa living with fistula. After a number of assessment trips to different countries where fistula is an issue, SOLFA decided to focus its efforts in the DRC, choosing Hôpital St. Luc as the location for its activities.

Saint Luc Hospital provides the space and personnel for the facility’s fistula program, while SOLFA pays for other medical costs including admission and hospital stay, surgical procedure, and outpatient visits. The organization also provides some medications and medical/surgical products, but the items provided are typically donated by Belgian hospitals and the supply is often unpredictable and limited.

Because of a need for more uniform and consistent donations of medical material, they reached out to Direct Relief to help assist with ensuring better quality and standardization of fistula surgery and post-operative care.

A Message of Thanks

A few months after receiving their initial shipment of fistula modules, Dr. Dirk De Ridder, Professor of Urology at SOLFA, wrote:

     “The supplies allowed us to operate the women in a safer environment with trustworthy materials. Antibiotics were very useful, since they are difficult to get in DR Congo. Also the catheters and wound dressings were very useful. Sutures were excellent.

     A few women that were operated a year ago came to visit. Their fistulas were closed and they were continent. Before they were abandoned by their husbands. Now they all were happy to tell us that their husbands had returned and that they were living a normal family life again!

     Direct Relief is an important aid in the struggle against obstetric fistula. Receiving good quality material is a major advantage in treating these patients in a safe and professional way. Thanks in the name of all the patients that benefit from your donations.”

Direct Relief is looking forward to a continued and productive partnership with SOLFA and Hôpital St. Luc, and to helping more Congolese women receive life-restoring fistula repair. Many thanks to all of you who make this program possible. Support more shipments like these when you donate here.

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